Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – “Gilding the lily” may be defined as “giving an often deceptively attractive or improved appearance to something.” A synonym is to “sugar-coat the pill” as in “making something bad seem less unpleasant.” The bitter pills that need sweetening are the drastic economic reforms Brazil requires to get itself back on track.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

Sadly, Finance Minister Levy has not had enough training in sugar-coating. At Davos he forthrightly said Brazil is in a “recession”. His boss (Dilma) asked him to retract, so he complied a day later, saying he meant to say “retraction”.

Last week he said the tax relief policy of his predecessor was a “gross” mistake and a “joke” that had cost Brazil some R$25 billion. That policy lowered payroll taxes on favored industries. The intent was to induce an “unburdened” industry to hire more workers — but according to Levy, this simply didn’t happen.

Levy’s boss (Dilma) was outraged. On an official visit to Uruguay, she said Levy’s choice of words was “unhappy” which is a euphemism for “I’m unhappy with you” which is short for “everybody gets three chances — that’s your second.”

The irony of this episode is that Dilma was in Uruguay to celebrate the retirement from office of the only truly honest politician on the South American continent — José Mujica, an octogenarian known for his cranky, contentious, occasionally contemptuous (dare we say “curmudgeonly”?) phrases about anything and anyone he didn’t like, such as FIFA (“old S.O.B.s”) and La Presidenta Kirchner (“old witch”).

Mujica, even as President, lived a simple life driving a third-hand VW Beetle. He was, is and will remain a popular hero in Uruguay, in part because he said what he thought, and refused to gild lilies or sweeten pills.

Minister Levy seems to have gone to school on Mujica. Dilma played hookey, so she still wants Levy to call a spade a “long-handled metallic digging implement.”

The Curmudgeon will emit more shortish Smidgens opportunely—stay tuned.


  1. Hello Mr Royster:

    I am a fan and enjoy reading your articles in the Rio Times. Keep up the good work.
    I’m not sure that “gilding the lilly” has quite the meaning you explain in the above “Smidgen”…
    I understood that expression to mean “to adorn unnecessarily something already beautiful”. I have read that the expression comes from Shakespeare’s line “To gild refined gold, to paint the lilly…is wasteful and ridiculous excess”. A simple example would be to say that “Dilma is so beautiful that putting on make up is just Gilding the Lilly”…
    I think your other expression (“sugar coating the pill”) is more apt for the situation you describe, between Dilma and Levy.
    A humble observation from someone who envies you your job, and appreciates your work, from far away here in Christchurch, New Zealand.
    Kind regards, Paulo


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